I've always been an old lady at heart. I knit, I bake, I watch Agatha Christie mysteries on PBS. I wear LLBean sweaters, and avoid bars and restaurants where crowds of noisy, flashy people my age compete for attention. Pickling and preserving, making jam and decorating it with squares of gingham, seemed right up my alley. Who knew I was so trendy?
As this article in last week's New York Times describes, canning is all the rage among foodies and locavores. It's not just about saving money: as interest in eating seasonally increases, canning is a way to enjoy the bounties of summer farmers' markets all winter long.
First knitting became popular, and now home canning. Old lady is apparently the new cool. Will we see Michele Obama squirreling away sauces made with vegetables from her organic garden?
I began my first canning experiments this weekend, starting with Sunshine Rhubarb Juice Concentrate from the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving. I used four pounds of rhubarb bought at Saturday morning's market, zest and juice from a lemon and a lime, and a heap of sugar. (It won't be good for your teeth or waistline, but I dare you to turn down a glass of liquid sunshine in the middle of February.) I got only three pints, instead of four as the recipe suggested. All my jars are tightly sealed, so here's hoping I did everything correctly.
My second go was Eugenia Bone's Pickled Asparagus. Here's an informative step-by-step slide show that accompanies the recipe. My jars are cooling on the countertop as I write. I just heard one of the lids pop, a sign it's formed a vacuum seal, though I won't know for four weeks whether I successfully preserved asparagus or created a botulism colony.
Canning, with its potential for food poisoning, is intimidating, especially if you're clumsy like me and tend to ignore directions. I finally decided to give it a try because the taste of Maine-grown tomatoes and berries in the dead of winter is enough to bring tears of gratitude to my eyes. I'm starting easy, with acidic fruits and pickled vegetables that don't require heating above the boiling point. I bought a pressure cooker for carrots and green beans, and learning to use it without blowing up my house is my next project. I can't wait for strawberries in late June, tomatoes and blueberries in August, and all the jam, sauce, soup, and pie filling I can handle next winter.